A church is not primarily a spiritual entity.
When people come to church, the first thing they notice is not the doctrine, the spirit or any healing power that exists in the church. Rather, they notice the architecture, the décor, the way people are dressed, the language, and the kind of greeting (if any). All of these are not spiritual, ethereal or other worldly items but they are very worldly, cultural, social communication. And often a person decides if they are comfortable in that church from the first few moments.
The question is often asked, “Why do the homeless not come to church?” Well, probably the better way to ask that question is, “Why do the homeless not come to MY church?” If they don’t come, it is because the culture of the church makes their subculture uncomfortable. The homeless DO go to church. They go to churches in which they are comfortable, where they feel culturally welcome.
Again, the choice of anyone to come to a church happens in the first few moments, often before they meet anyone. A homeless person looks at the pristine environment, the quiet voices, the conservative clothes, the way the couple people who notice him avoid his gaze and decides at that moment that the church is not for him.
Now, I welcome you to my church on Saturday. If you come in at 11:30, you will find about 20 people there, both men and women. They are street-dressed in warm, practical but worn clothing. Backpacks are at every seat. Almost everyone has long hair and beards. Some folks don’t smell really great. And the faint smell of body-processed alcohol hangs in the air. The folks are a bit rowdy, laughing loud, teasing each other.
The room isn’t a sanctuary, but filled with tables, seats all around them and there is a couple of couches in the attached room. People sit, relax, take off their shoes. A couple are going through clothes over on one side. A few others are getting the food table prepped.
Finally, the pastor comes in with a pile of food about as tall as his eyesight. He lays it out with some help and then yells out, “Okay, let’s pray for the food!” The whole room becomes silent and men remove their hats as the pastor prays: “Lord, we thank you for this food and for this warm place to be. We ask that you would give us your spirit right now to help us honor You and to respect each other. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Everyone repeats “amen.”
Then a line forms itself for the food and another line forms for showers. No one tells them how to line up, or commands them how to be polite. This is their time, and the homeless are in charge. They determined the order in which people would get food, clothes and showers. They set up the tables and bring in the materials for the day. They know that there will be a service at 1 and most of them will be ready to worship God, freshly showered and clothed, praying the Lord’s prayer in unison at the hour. They will be ready to talk back to the preacher and shout out their song requests to the worship leader.
Now, as you were reading this description, you may be thinking, ‘how quaint’ or perhaps, ‘that is really…different.” For most of you, this isn’t a comfortable setting for you to worship. And that’s okay. But just remember, for my folks a crowd of three thousand middle class folks isn’t a proper setting for them. Nor is a small church with exuberant worship and everyone dressed to the hilt.
And that’s all okay. Just as long as we all worship God. As long as we all recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. As long as we all believe and live in Jesus Christ. Christ crosses culture. And sub-culture. And we can be one, even if we honor God differently.